The Benefits of Implementing Disability Sports in Physical Education: A Model for Success

By Grenier, Michelle; Kearns, Catherine | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, April 2012 | Go to article overview

The Benefits of Implementing Disability Sports in Physical Education: A Model for Success


Grenier, Michelle, Kearns, Catherine, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


The growing appeal and acceptance of disability sports within the general population makes them an attractive addition for any physical education program (Davis, 2011). While many sports, such as goalball and sledge hockey, are unique to the disabled population, others, such as wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball are modifications of their traditional counterparts. When included in a general physical education (GPE) program, these sports provide complementary skills to students while delivering a powerful message about what it means to be an athlete with a disability. Disability sports provide an avenue for teaching all students the skills connected with the affective, psychomotor, and cognitive domains. This article presents a case study of the implementation of a disability sports curriculum in an elementary physical education program and its benefits. Suggestions are also provided on skill development, game modifications, and targeted learning outcomes that make disability sports accessible and beneficial to all students.

A Unique Curriculum

Contrary to what many people think, teaching disability sports is not about simulating activities intended to make individuals without disabilities understand the experience of having a disability. While simulations are thought to provide insight into the experience of being disabled, they fall short of making people more aware of what it means to be disabled because they expose the limitations rather than the abilities of people with disabilities (French, 1992). Alternatively, the implementation of a disability sport program in physical education provides a means for exploring some of the issues associated with what it means to have a disability. However, it is recommended that disability sports not be measured against the traditional way of playing a sport, nor should they be presented as activities only for individuals with disabilities (Barton, 2009).

The Players

Swanzey School in southern New England enrolls 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Two physical education teachers undertook the project of implementing a disability sport unit during their students' physical education class. Their motivation was two-fold: (1) to educate fifth-grade students about the Paralympic Games and (2) to determine whether a disability sport unit in physical education would make a difference in how the students think about individuals with disabilities.

The Planning Process

The development of the unit coincided with the winter Paralympic Games of 2010. Criteria for the selected sports included optimal activity time, ease of skill development, availability of teaching space, and the ability to transition quickly from skill development to game play. Less emphasis was placed on replicating the disability sport itself and more on the ability to make modifications aligned with the students' skill level and abilities. Over a five-week period, four disability sports were introduced during the students' 45-minute class period: wheelchair basketball, goalball, sitting volleyball, and sledge hockey. Specially designed equipment was used for each disability sport with the exception of sledge hockey. Weeks one through four focused on one sport each, and in week five, students were allowed to choose a sport. All classes elected to play sledge hockey.

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Modifying the Sports

Because the goal was to educate students about the Paralympic Games and the sports associated with them, both teachers felt it was essential for students to have success playing the game. As in any teaching situation, particularly at the elementary level, adaptations were an integral part of the planning process. Throughout the unit, attention was also directed at developing progressions that enabled the students to experience a game situation with a high level of intensity.

Each lesson began with a brief video clip of athletes playing the selected sport. …

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